Jack and the Whitetail!

By

Date: Saturday, December 28th

Hunter’s Name: Jack Hughes (8 years old)

Game Hunting: Whitetail Deer

Where Hunting: High Pine Hunting Preserve and Lodge, Buena Vista, Georgia. Website http://www.highpinelodge.com

Hunting Method: Rifle (.243 100 grain Federal Load)

Phase of Season: Post Rut

Weather: Very cold in the morning (22 degrees). Highs reached into the mid- to upper 50s.

Observations: This was an unusual day where the deer were not moving like we had seen earlier in the month. There had been some really nice bucks spotted in the area we were hunting, but this day was particularly slow.

How it All Went Down
I took my oldest son Jack hunting at High Pine Hunting Preserve just south of Columbus in Buena Vista, GA. High Pine is an operation we use to host several Realtree clients during the fall. Jack is eight years old and Randy Powell, owner and operator of High Pine, had been wanting me to bring Jack down during the holidays to try to put him on his first deer. Jack had sat in the stand with me in the past, but this year was the first for him to take his new .243 in the woods and give it a whirl.

That morning was cold. It was in the low 20’s and because of that I opted to wait until about 9 a.m. to get Jack in the stand. We sat side by side in a double stand until noon and saw nothing but a few squirrels. It did give me a chance to school him on more "In the woods do's and don'ts" such as safety and other hunting related rules.

After coming back to the lodge for lunch and spending a little time quail hunting, we headed back to the woods at about 3:00 p.m.

After the hunt that morning, Randy mentioned that he had a single stand with another right behind it about 10 to 15 yards back. They had used a couple of these setups this fall for filming. They were located in some high traffic areas and Randy felt sure that we would at least see some deer.

I had some hesitation. Jack had only shot this gun at the range two or three times. He had produced good groups at 50 yards, but that was with sandbags and me coaching over his shoulder. I was fine with the morning hunt because he was sitting right next to me for guidance. Randy's suggestion of putting us in two different stands put kinks in my plan to walk him through this experience. I had privately asked Jack a couple of times if he would be okay with the setup and he didn’t hesitate to tell me he’d be just fine. I think Dad was the most apprehensive.

Randy had also asked me before we headed out if I was going to take my rifle.

I said "No, why?"

Randy asked, "What if that big buck walks out at 100 yards? Don't you want to have that gun with you to back Jack up?"

I politely told Randy, "No, this is Jack's hunt and if the big boy walks out, Jack is going to be the one to take him. All I'm taking is a camera to capture the moment."

Thinking Jack might want that backup, I directed the question to him, "Do you want me to take my gun?"

I proudly smiled after hearing Jack’s reply, "Only if I get the first shot, Dad!"

I knew then that he was going to handle the shooting and I was only going to be a spectator.

Randy came up with a fantastic suggestion that was used heavily during some filming on earlier hunts. His idea was to use some string for communicating between hunter and cameraman. Jack and I were aiming to use this “high-tech’ talking tool. After I got Jack settled into his seat, I tied some string to his ankle and ran it back to my stand just behind and above him. I told him that one tug meant to look back my way for instruction and two tugs meant that there has been deer sighted and he needed to begin carefully looking for it.

All the way to the stand I coached Jack on everything I could think of, just things that I would have said to him while sitting with him... "Don't make sudden moves; freeze if a deer looks at you; only pull the hammer back when you’re ready to shoot; and don't place that finger on the trigger until you are ready to take the shot!" Jack was a sport and only answered “yes Dad” to the barrage of instructions. Honestly, I was a nervous wreck.

We got settled by about 4 p.m., which left us about 2 hours of shooting light. The stands were located in a wide-open hardwood bottom that hosted several acorn producing white oaks. And where there are acorns, there are squirrels. Gangs of squirrels! They kept us at attention for well over an hour with many sounding like deer walking in from every direction! Jack was looking back at me with wide eyes, only to see me mouth "squirrel" over and over.

With only 30 minutes of shooting light left and no sign of a deer, I was getting frustrated. I could tell that Jack was getting discouraged and bored. He was quiet and still, but there is only so much of downtime that an eight-year-old can take. I at least wanted him to be able to scope something. Even if a shot didn’t present itself, I just wanted something to happen to keep up his enthusiasm.

About that time, I noticed the squirrels heading to their nests and the woods became quiet. I tugged at Jack’s string and mouthed "this is the best time to hear and see some deer!"

All of a sudden, I heard what I knew were deer walking at about our 10 o’clock position. I saw Jack's attentiveness peak and he was suddenly alert to what was happening. A couple of minutes later, he turned to me, held up two fingers and mouthed "TWO DEER!"

“So much for the string double tug,” I thought to myself. Here I am, Mr. "Spot the deer for Jack man" and I still couldn't see “em! Jack was on the edge of his seat and at full alert. I could hear them walking up to our left, but still could not see them. My mind was racing! I tugged on Jack’s string and motioned for him to pull that hammer back. He did and immediately pulled the gun up and started watching the deer. About that time, I could see eight legs walking to our left at about 50 yards. I could now see a mature doe and a yearling. The yearling looked up at Jack and he froze like a pro peeking over his scope to watch, his finger never touching the trigger. As the two deer walked up farther to my left, they went back to feeding. Jack then went back to looking through the scope.

The bigger doe starting looking at me. The yearling, which was five yards closer to us was feeding on acorns and was oblivious to our presence. Now I had to freeze and try to watch both the deer and Jack with eyeballs only. At the time it appeared to me that Jack only had a shot at the yearling. The yearling kept feeding, the larger doe kept looking at me. I cornered my eyes at Jack and saw his finger move up to the trigger. I looked back at the deer and BAM! I jumped! The yearling took off! I thought "Man! He missed it!" But he didn’t! The big doe fell over and slid a few feet down a small slope.

I immediately spoke to Jack, “Hold on! Don't move! Are you OK?”

The whole time I thought he might take a scope to the nose or drop the gun from all of the excitement. Turns out, Jack was calmly sitting there telling me, "I got her Dad!" while I was shaking like a leaf and about to jump out of the stand!

I nervously climbed down and went over to Jack to help unhook him and lower his gun. This whole time, he was giving me a blow by blow recount of how he pulled this off. We approached his trophy and I immediately pulled out the camera (shaky knees and all).

A funny thing, the day before I had printed out pictures of deer off the internet. Each shot showed them standing at different angles. I had taken a pen and circled the area where Jack should place the crosshair if presented with a shot. He studied those pictures all the way to the lodge that day. And his shot literally took the heart out at 50 yards!

We took some pictures and headed for the truck. Before I loaded her up, I reached down, got a little blood on my fingers and gave Jack his "first deer war paint" for a job well done. Needless to say, he was the talk of the lodge that night. We even dressed the doe out with an Old Timer knife I had gotten him for Christmas 3 days earlier.

I have had the opportunity to travel many places for some hunts of a lifetime, but nothing comes close to what I experienced that Saturday. I can’t wait until Jack’s twin brothers are ready to take their first deer with Dad. If I could do this every year, I could care less if I ever pulled that trigger again. I'll just watch!

The day after Jack’s hunt, his younger brothers Adam and Eric enjoyed a day at High Pine. No deer were taken, but plenty of fried quail for dinner.

Author's Note: If your interested in a great southern whitetail, turkey, quail or dove hunt, check with the folks at High Pine by clicking here!